Rotational Training

Many sport actions contain either large or subtle rotational components. Envision a hammer, discus, shot put, or javelin thrower launching their implement into the air; a baseball, softball, tennis, racquetball, hockey, handball, or cricket athlete swinging their instrument; a pitcher or quarterback throwing overhead, a boxer, kick boxer, or MMA athlete throwing a hook, jab, cross, uppercut, or kick; a judo athlete, wrestler, or MMA athlete attempting to trip and take down an opponent; or a football or basketball player attempting a spin-move. These are all examples of rotary actions in sport, and rotary strength and power deals with eccentric, isometric, and concentric contractions.

The Four Categories of Rotational Exercises

In the weight room, many coaches employ rotary exercises in order to enhance rotary power. Several different implements can be used to develop rotary power, such as medicine balls, tornado balls, cable columns, resistance bands, barbells, and my favorite – the Cook bar. Resistance exercises in the weight room that build rotary power generally fall into four categories:

1. General Strength Exercises - no core muscle has a pure rotary vector, so the task of rotation and anti-rotation is divvied out between all the different core muscles. For this reason squats and deadlifts will increase rotary power despite the fact that they don’t contain rotational components simply because they will increase cross-sectional area as well as active and and passive stiffness in the muscles involved in rotation – for example the obliques, erector spinae, and gluteus maximus. These typically involve isometric core contractions and are usually axial-loaded.

2. Pure Isometric Rotary Exercises - these are often coined “anti-rotation” exercises or “rotary stability” exercises and include movements such as the band or cable rotary hold or foam roller rotary hold. These involve isometric core contractions and isometric limb contractions (nothing moves) and contain rotary (also called torsional) force vectors.

3. Dynamic Limb/Core Isometric Rotary Exercises - these are also called “anti-rotation” and “rotary stability” exercises and are slightly more complicated than pure rotary isometric exercises since the core must remain stable while the limbs move. These exercises include landmines, Pallof presses, cable chops and lifts, push-pulls, and even many unilateral exercises such as single arm dumbbell bench press, one arm dumbbell rows, Bulgarian split squats, and single leg bottoms up hip thrusts. These exercises also require isometric core contractions with concentric and eccentric limb movements, and the directional force vectors can vary. In the case of the Pallof press, the vector is a combination of mediolateral and torsional. In the case of the one arm dumbbell bench press or row and the single leg hip thrust, the vector is a combination of anteroposterior and torsional. In the case of the Bulgarian split squat, the lead vector is axial and torsional, but if you place a single dumbbell in one hand, you now introduce a mediolateral component. In the case of the landmine, the vector is a combination of axial, mediolateral, and torsional. As you can see, analyzing directional force vectors in rotational exercises can be quite complicated.

4. Rotary Movement Exercises – exercises in this category involve some slight spinal rotation and include cable woodchops, band or cable hip rotations, Russian twists, windshield wipers, and even exercises such as variations of landmines, and cable chops and lifts with some extra body English (spinal movement). These exercises involve all three muscle actions as they contain an eccentric, isometric, and concentric component. They are more risky but if you understand spinal biomechanics and program design you can safely prescribe these movements to your athletes.

What’s the Best Rotational Movement in Existence?

Obviously every coach has his or her own opinion on this topic, but my personal favorite is the half-kneeling anti-rotation press. It takes a while to develop sufficient coordination on this movement but once you do, I can promise you that your rear glute and entire core region will be burning, and you’ll feel like a Spartan warrior while you perform this incredibly powerful movement. Here I am using a Cook bar to perform the movement, but a rope attachment can be used efficiently as well.

18 thoughts on “Rotational Training

  1. Dean Somerset

    Hey Bret. I know what you were getting at here with the rotational strength training exercises, but all the athletes you mentioned in the opening require a tremendous amount of power as well as strength to compete in their desired sports. Now I know training for strength can facilitate power, but without a fast movement power cannot develop properly, correct? How would you go about integrating rotational power in a gym environment without throwing something at something else?

    Also, hope you’re enjoying winter. Everyone in Canada likes to make snow angels naked, because it’s so exhilirating, you should try it too!!

    Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      Totally agree Dean. This is where medballs, the tornado ball, and certain plyos come in handy. I was experimenting with these all winter with my baseball player I was training and we came up with some good stuff. I definitely need to make some naked snow angels at some point in time! Thanks, Bret

      Reply
  2. Coach Stevo

    Hey Bret, saw this from Nick Tumminello a few months ago and it made some sense to me.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Q0GbXC-t6w

    I’m now use the half-kneeling twist series as a thoracic mobility drill (i.e low weight, focus on ROM and activation) but train ballistic movements standing so the hip and shoulder can move in unison.

    Would love your thoughts,
    Coach Stevo

    Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      I love Nick’s advice here…big fan of him. If you can keep the motion in the hips, go for it, but for most clients and especially beginners they won’t have the segmental control required to do the half-kneeling rotational movements properly (especially with explosive stuff like medballs). So I agree with Nick on that and with you that most explosive rotational work should be trained on the feet.

      Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      Very interesting Neal. Something’s screwy with my computer and I can’t access the pdf. The statch sure involves a lot of counterrotation at certain joints from certain vectors, but not from a torsional standpoint so I agree with you. I’d classify the snatch as something that will build “general” power and strength for rotation due to the fact that it hammers the glutes, erectors, etc. and will help with RFD even with rotation. But in my opinion, you need to bridge the gap with rotary medball work in order to max out rotary power.

      Reply
  3. Chris B.

    How to make your own Cook bar for cheap:
    1. Get a piece of PVC or pipe, a piece of chain the same length, and 2 carabiners
    2. Run the chain through it
    3. Attach a carabiner to each end of the chain

    Reply
  4. Teri

    Thanks for this blog; I added single arm dumbbell bench presses to my workout and really feel it in my core balancing on the bench as well as the chest, back and arm. Hopefully this will assist in improving upper body strength as well as my standard bench press. I appreciate the videos you post to take the guesswork out of trying something new as well.

    Reply
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  6. Dan

    Love your work Bret!!!

    Im desperate to know which single exercise do you think/know is the best for the rotational (concentric) strength of the glutes?

    The reason being is im trying to increase the power of my punches for boxing and as im sure you know plyometric exercises combined with maximum strength exercises = power.

    Well I have plenty of plyometric rotational exercises for the glutes but whats the best maximum strength exercise for them?

    Kind regards and many many thanks!!!

    Reply
    1. Dan

      I know you said the half kneeling anti rotation is best but the hips in a boxing punch fully rotate if you leave them behind and mainly punch with just the obliques like in your favorite exercise theres much less power.

      The band rotation is not concentric and the slowest part of the rotation is at the end so not good for power the fastest part needs to be at the end.

      The cable machine exercises seem the best so far but you cant get enough weight on them to develop the glutes.

      Bar twists like windscreen wipers are limited by the obliques/mid section muscles and rotation is divided out by the glutes quads calves etc so its hard to hit the glutes with any intensity.

      Would really like an answer if you have one im willing to pay for it.

      Reply
      1. Bret Post author

        Dan, the glute max has the best leverage out of all the muscles for rotation. If you’re not using it, you’re leaving a ton on the table. Better golfers use more glute than their less-skilled competitors.

        The band rotation is concentric for the rear glute max – hip external rotation.

        And you can do plenty of heavy cable rotation exercises. Take a sumo stance if you want to use more load. I like sumo stance Pallof presses with a little bit of oscillation.

        And you want some high-force lifts (like these that are slow but heavier) to compliment the high-velocity sport drills (throwing, striking, etc.). Combined training is king.

        Reply
        1. Dan

          Thanks Brett I really appreciate your answer! Cant wait to try your suggestions!

          Can you give us some basic advice on how to avoid a slipped disc when performing rotational movements like land-mines, external band rotations, etc

          It sometimes feels like it puts a bit of force on my spine and Im extremely fearful that I will slip a disc.

          So what basic advice would you give to greatly diminish the possibility of an injured spine? What are the golden rules of avoiding this injury if you like?

          Reply
          1. Bret Post author

            Dan, there’s no such thing as a “slipped disc.” Herniations are heavily influenced by end-range lumbar flexion. Rotation can beat up the discs too, but if you don’t move (keep the core stable) then you’ll mainly be placing compressive forces (very large levels of compressive force at that due to core muscular contractions) on the spine. So just ease into the movements, progress gradually, keep the spine stable and move at the hips (and upper back if needed), and if you feel any pain, just don’t do it anymore. Core training isn’t worth pain/injury – you can get a very strong core with the big basics. Hope that helps, BC

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